By Anthony McClean, Editor In Chief Emeritus
While the SWAC’s Western Division title will again come down to next weekend’s Bayou Classic in New Orleans between Grambling State and Southern, the Eastern Division will be decided Saturday (3 pm ET) in the state of Mississippi.
No one’s surprise, the four-time defending division champs from Alcorn State (7-3, 5-1) will be hosting the deciding game at Jack Spinks-Marino Casem Stadium. However, their opponent for Saturday’s showdown is clearly a surprise.
Especially when you consider the kind of roller coaster season they’ve experienced.
Just three weeks ago, the Tigers of Jackson State were coming off a humiliating 41-7 loss to the aforementioned Jaguars in Baton Rouge. Head coach Tony Hughes was fired following the loss which left the Tigers with a 3-4 mark at the time.
Despite pulling off one of the bigger upsets on the season in beating Florida A&M at Tallahassee, Hughes’ overall 9-20 record (8-12 in the SWAC) gave JSU officials all the ammunition they felt they needed to replace him.
Two weeks and a couple of wins later, the resilient Tigers and interim head coach John Hendrick has Jackson State on the verge of playing for the school’s first SWAC title since 2013.
In Hendrick’s first game, the Tigers (5-4, 4-2) handled Prairie View 34-28 on Senior Day and then thrashed Alabama State 20-2 on the road. They’ll now face the Braves in what could be a very memorable “Soul Bowl” in Lorman.
Since 2007 – the year JSU won its last conference championship – the Tigers have won seven of the last 11 meetings between the two teams. However, JSU is 2-3 in the last five matchups and 3-3 since the 2012 season.
GSU (6-4, 4-2) and Southern (6-3, 5-1) are idle as they prepare for their West showdown.
We’re about to explain all the remaining conference scenarios on the road to the Air Force Celebration Bowl in Atlanta on December 15th. Do yourself a favor and grab some extra paper and a strong pencil for this.
Florida A&M (6-4, 5-1) controls its own destiny, as a win against Bethune-Cookman on Saturday in the Florida Classic (2 pm ET) clinches a berth to the Celebration Bowl and at least a share of the MEAC championship.
A FAMU win, coupled with a loss by North Carolina A&T (6-4, 5-1) to North Carolina Central (4-5, 2-3) Saturday in Durham (2 pm ET), would give FAMU an outright MEAC championship.
The Aggies can win an outright MEAC championship and return to the Celebration Bowl with a win on Saturday and a Florida A&M loss.
If both FAMU and A&T win, both teams would be declared co-champions at 6-1 with FAMU earning a bid to the Celebration Bowl based on its head-to-head win over the Aggies.
However, A&T would also still be eligible for an at-large berth in the FCS playoffs.
If the Aggies lose and FAMU loses to Bethune-Cookman (6-5, 4-2), coupled with wins by South Carolina State (4-5, 3-2) in its final two games, the Aggies would be declared co-champions with FAMU, the Wildcats, and the Bulldogs at 5-2 and clinch a berth to the Celebration Bowl.
In this scenario, A&T and Bethune-Cookman would have the best record (2-1) amongst the four tied teams, with the Aggies representing the MEAC in the Celebration Bowl due to its head-to-head win over the Wildcats.
If the Aggies lose, FAMU loses to Bethune-Cookman and South Carolina State drops one of its final two games, the Aggies would be declared co-champs with the Rattlers and the Wildcats at 5-2.
All three teams would remain tied (1-1) in its head-to-head match-ups and the Aggies would earn the Celebration Bowl bid based on earning 14 points by virtue of its non-conference wins against FBS and FCS opponents.
Bethune-Cookman has attained four points for its win over FCS Mississippi Valley State while FAMU does not have any wins versus FBS or FCS opponents. By the way, the Florida Classic will be seen live on ESPN Classic.
Also, the Aggie-Eagle Classic will be seen live on ESPN3.
DIVISION II PLAYOFFS
First the good news. For the second straight season, Bowie State will host an NCAA playoff game. Seeded fourth, the CIAA champion Bulldogs (9-2) will meet fifth-seeded West Alabama (8-3) at 1 pm ET.
The bad news is that BSU is the only HBCU squad that got an invite despite a strong Virginia Union squad that finished 8-2. It is the first time in three seasons since the SIAC and CIAA joined the same super-region that only one HBCU has made the postseason.
For the SIAC, they’ve now been shut out of the NCAA playoffs for the second consecutive season. Albany State’s 50-23 loss to Miles College (5-6) in the title game costs the Golden Rams (7-4) a shot at the postseason party.
As for the Bulldogs, they’ll try to erase the sting of a 45-35 loss in last year’s playoffs to the Delta State Statesmen. Saturday’s winner will meet No. 1 seeded Valdosta State (10-0) next weekend.
The game will also serve as another showcase for the CIAA’s two-time Offensive Player of the year, BSU senior quarterback Amir Hall. Hall tied a CIAA Championship record three rushing touchdowns.
He was named the Nationwide Most Valuable Player and finished the game with four total touchdowns along with 180 yards passing and 139 yards rushing. Saturday’s game can be seen live on the CIAA’s Digital Sports Network.
Anthony McClean can be reached via email at email@example.com.